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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Turn of the 19th Century True Crime

Skull in the Ashes  by Peter Kaufman

     I really enjoyed this book.  I feel it has four different parts.  The book captured my interest right away.  We read of the aftermath of the crime and the skull found in the ashes.  Here, we meet the people of the small Iowa town where the crime took place.   This was especially interesting to me since I am familiar with the area, but anyone interested in life at the turn of the 20th century would enjoy this book.
     The second part of the book covers the manhunt for the suspect.  This takes the reader all the way from small town Iowa to a mining town in the Yukon.  It was incredible the lengths taken to arrest the suspect.  In this part of the book, you also learn about private detectives and what their work was like in the 1890s.  
      Third comes the trial.  All the evidence against the suspect was circumstantial, which would make a conviction from this trial groundbreaking.  The interactions of  large personalities and adept arguing were enjoyable.  We also get a detailed look at the newspapers and journalism of this era.  
Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America     Lastly, we learn what prisons were like at the turn of the century.  Again, local knowledge peaked my interest, but I was also fascinating to learn about the penal system at that time.  I learned so much throughout this book while getting to enjoy "the chase".
      There were so many new or relatively new advances that help lead to the conclusion of this mystery, including photography and telephones.  Which the author discusses, but I most appreciated the way the author ended his book.  He came back to remembering the victims in this crime, helping us to remember this was not just a thrilling manhunt and trial, but a tragedy, too.
     I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history, true crime, or mystery, and those who want to get a slice of life from 1890s while being entertained.

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